The Effects of Mixing MDMA & Alcohol
Mixing psychoactive substances without the oversight of a doctor is never a good idea, and this is especially true when using illicit, recreational drugs. Combining psychoactive drugs can result in unexpected side effects – sometimes enhancing the risks of the drugs on their own and sometimes creating new risks because of the way the substances react to each other.
On the club scene, combining MDMA, also known as Molly or ecstasy, and alcohol is a popular form of recreational drug use because of rumors that each enhances the effects of the other, creating a more enjoyable high. However, individuals who use this combination are often unaware of the risks of using MDMA and alcohol together.
MDMA is a psychedelic substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception by interacting with three neurochemicals in the brain:
- Dopamine, which affects the body’s pleasure response, creating a sense of euphoria
- Norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and respiration as well as alertness
- Serotonin, which enhances empathy, sexual feelings, and emotional closeness to others
These interactions also result in side effects that can be uncomfortable, such as:
- Nausea and upset stomach
- Blurred vision
- Chills and sweating
- Irritability and aggression
- Decreased pleasure
- Memory loss
- Muscle tension, including jaw clenching
The Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a legal, recreational substance that is part of many people’s celebrations and other special events. Most people are aware of the relaxing, inhibition-loosening properties of this mostly sedative substance. It has other, less pleasant side effects, such as:
- Loss of coordination
- Decreased cognitive capabilities
- Inability to focus
- Increased heart rate and heart palpitations
In addition, using alcohol over time can result in various long-term physicaland mental health problems, including effects on the brain that can result in damage to memory and other cognitive functions as advised by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Damage to the heart, liver, and other organs can also result from extensive alcohol use.
Using Alcohol and MDMA Together
As mentioned above, some people mix MDMA and alcohol to experience enhanced effects of both substances, and the perception that this works may not be too far off base. A study from the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics notes that people who use MDMA with alcohol experienced an extended period of euphoria compared to using either drug alone, with the added sensation of being less sleepy or sedated than would happen when using alcohol alone.
In general, it is MDMA’s effects that are enhanced with this combination. According to the study, concentrations of MDMA in the body increased after using alcohol while alcohol concentrations decrease after adding MDMA. In addition, while people may feel more alert after using MDMA with alcohol, their coordination loss and other symptoms of drunkenness did not decrease. In other words, they continued to experience impairment even if they didn’t feel it.
Physical Side Effects of MDMA with Alcohol
Because of the sensation that individuals who use MDMA and alcohol together are not impaired, there is heightened risk of getting in accidents because they are more intoxicated than they think. There is also risk that the person will continue to consume alcohol past the point at which the body can handle it, leading to potential alcohol poisoning. This, in turn, can lead quickly to death without medical intervention.
The reverse can be true as well. MDMA alone has at least a slight risk of overdose, which can lead to seizures, high blood pressure, faintness, and unconsciousness along with panic or anxiety attacks. Alcohol can increase these symptoms when combined with MDMA.
Other effects of using alcohol and MDMA together include dehydration and elevated body temperature, which together can lead to hyperthermia and potentially create a health emergency, even leading to heat stroke, as explained by Drinkaware.
Using alcohol with MDMA on a long-term basis can result in complicating the problems that are caused by long-term use of either drug alone. For example, both drugs can have damaging effects on the heart, which can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease later.
Similarly, both MDMA and alcohol can result in brain damage and memory loss. This has made the combination a dangerous element of potential date rape. Because both substances can cause a person to black out, and because of the emotional closeness and sexual arousal that can result from MDMA, the substances are sometimes combined and slipped into a potential victim’s drink to make it easier for the perpetrator to take sexual advantage of the person without the victim having any memory of the event.
Reputation for Safety
It can be difficult to convince people of the risks of using MDMA and alcohol together because of the perception that both substances are safe. This was not helped by a report by a Canadian doctor that “pure” MDMA is safer than other drugs. As reported by Popular Science, this is a deceptive statement. Using MDMA is not safe, no matter the drug quality, and there is no way to ascertain the purity of the drug purchased on the street. In fact, sometimes people who think they are buying MDMA end up with bath salts or other more dangerous substances instead.
Similarly, people perceive that alcohol is safe because it’s legal. However, it has major risks even when consumed on its own, let alone with other substances. For this reason, it is important to understand that psychoactive substances can never be considered to be safe just because they are pure or legal. This is even more true when such substances are combined without knowing the potential negative effects.
Addiction and Polydrug Abuse
Another consequence of using and combining recreational substances is the potential for addiction. If substances like MDMA and alcohol are used regularly in large amounts, it is possible for the brain and body to develop tolerance, leading the person to taking more. This can result in a type of damage to neurotransmitter systems that makes the drugs not work as well after a while, encouraging the person to use more.
After more time, this can lead to the person feeling unable to function properly or feel good without using the drugs. Once a person has lost control of their substance use, addiction may be diagnosed. This chronic brain disease requires treatment and therapy to recover, and it must be managed for the rest of the person’s life to avoid relapse to substance abuse.
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How to Get Help
Reliable, reputable, and research-based treatment programs can help people learn to understand and manage the cravings, triggers, and other symptoms that lead them to use MDMA and alcohol, both alone and together. Rehab offers therapies to help the person avoid triggers so they can achieve and maintain abstinence.
In the case of polydrug abuse like with MDMA and alcohol, it is vital to work with a program experienced in this type of drug abuse. Quitting two different substances can be more challenging and cause more mental and physical complications during detox. Polydrug abuse can also present more challenges in managing the issues that lead to abuse of the substances. However, with professionals experienced in and understanding of the struggles involved, it is possible to overcome these challenges and get on the path to recovery and a more positive future.